In Marriage, Children Don’t Come First

Portrait of married couple and their four young children
In families there are first tier and second tier friendships

My parents are revolutionaries.

They lived as equal partners.

My dad generally cooked the meals and Mom baked the treats. Dad did dishes and laundry and Mom balanced the budget. Mom oversaw cleaning minutia and Dad managed the broader house cleansings. Mom was nurse and homework advisor. Dad gathered the family together for family home evening, prayers, and scripture study, and out the door for church on Sundays.

They both handed out chores to the closest person in proximity—even visitors. Girls took out trash and mowed the yard. Boys folded clothes and made meals. And everyone pulled weeds out of the garden…together at 7 a.m. on Saturday mornings.

And my dad’s favorite hobby besides baking bread to give to neighbors?  Grocery shopping! That man can tell you the cheapest deal on corn-on-the-cob in the county, and the next one over, too.

All of this madness does tend to impact a person. I developed some crazy expectations for my future spouse.

In Marriage, Will Backgrounds Ever Align?

When I first met my husband, I assumed Anthony could cook. And he could cook – a PopTart and steak (not for the same meal.) Anthony’s fridge was stocked with ketchup, steak sauce, and milk. (That was all that was in his fridge.)

I mistakenly supposed he wanted to go grocery shopping as a fun family activity.

I remember his mom’s reaction the first time we had them over and Anthony cleared the table and started the dishes while we finished our meal. (There are benefits to being the slowest eater). He had never had to clear the table, until he ate at my parents’ house.

Preparing for one meal, Mom handed Anthony the silverware and asked him to set the table. He did. After the blessing as she prepared to eat, mom exclaimed, “Who set the table like this?”

He, sort of cautiously, said he did. He had never set the table before, so didn’t know exactly where everything went. Mom apologized for sounding so surprised, showed him where the fork went, and started eating.

Mom and dad were raised under differing parenting philosophies, too. They decided what worked for them, and ultimately adapted as needed for their eight children’s different personalities. Their philosophy was “united we stand.”

Parental Unity Outranks Child Loyalty

Family enjoying time together on the beach
Children are a product of your purpose

I took mutual collaboration for granted because of my parents.

They always sat next to each other. At the table. In the car. On the church pew. They still do. And now that they have recliners, they hold hands across their recliner space.

When dad got home from work, he didn’t sit right down and watch TV like normal dads. Instead, he always found mom first and gave her a big hug and kiss. Then, he got all up in our space putting us to work, asking about our day, and settling squabbles.

I remember asking dad for permission without success and going to mom to hopefully get it. I only did that once. The small evening breeze carried my quiet question for Mom to Dad’s supersonic hearing ears. Apparently there was to be no pitting one parent against another in our household.

One night at dinner soon afterward, Dad and Mom made it very clear that they were best friends with an unbreakable bond. The best we could hope for was 2nd favorite in our family … and all of us kids were equally 2nd favorites.  Talk about crazies.

I fully expected Anthony and me to have the same kind of crazy parenting philosophy. But, as it turned out, God needed our crazy skills for other things.

So, we’ve watched the next generation of revolutionaries develop.

My brothers change diapers and take midnight bottle duty because they love and respect their wives. My sisters haul kids around on hiking adventures and cheer on various football teams.

But clearly, they all co-manage their favorite team, making marriage and family life harmonious.

Never Stop Cleaving, Your Spouse is All You Have

Dad’s dating advice included “Remember that you not only need to love your spouse, you also need to like your spouse.”

Mom and dad taught us that the most important relationships in our lives are with our spouse and children.

The most important responsibility in child rearing is to love your children, while never forgetting that marriage responsibilities are actually your first priority. They told us that relationship with our spouse was the first priority because someday we would want our kids to put their marriages and families first, too. If our marital relationship suffered during child rearing, we would be in trouble as empty nesters.

The Family: A Proclamation to the World describes the way I was raised:

HUSBAND AND WIFE have a solemn responsibility to love and care for each other and for their children. “Children are an heritage of the Lord” (Psalm 127:3). Parents have a sacred duty to rear their children in love and righteousness, to provide for their physical and spiritual needs, and to teach them to love and serve one another, observe the commandments of God, and be law-abiding citizens wherever they live.

Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh (Genesis 2:24).

For me, the single most important ingredient in my relationship with my parents was my parents’ relationship with each other.  They told me they loved each other. They showed me they loved each other. I knew they loved each other.

Not until recently did I realize what revolutionaries my parents were.

Parents with Daughter
Even after years of marriage, couples are to be united in purpose

Child-Centric Life Equals a Peripheral Marriage

Recently, I read “How American Parenting is Killing the American Marriage” by Drs. Danielle and Astro Teller. They noted that somewhere along the way, parenthood evolved into a religion.

Nothing in life is allowed to be more important than our children, and we must never speak a disloyal word about our relationships with our offspring.

Children always come first. We accept this premise so reflexively today that we forget that it was not always so.

As a young casual observer of human relationships, I noticed moms who lost their own identities in their children. I wondered how people I knew were in love just stopped talking to each other. I felt the awkward moment when a spouse came home and nobody acknowledged his/her existence.

Now as an older casual observer of human relationships, I realize that nothing changes in an instant, but over series of instants. Instants become habits that change lives.

Drs. Teller concluded that

Parents who do not feel free to express their feelings honestly are less likely to resolve problems at home.

Children who are raised to believe that they are the center of the universe have a tough time when their special status erodes as they approach adulthood.

Most troubling of all, couples who live entirely child-centric lives can lose touch with one another to the point where they have nothing left to say to one another when the kids leave home.

So, what do you do if you are living a child-centric life? or just want to enrich your marital relationship?

Marriage Responsibility #1 – It’s Not About You

Newlywed couple in front of Bountiful temple
Strive to continually come closer together

Elder Dean L. Larsen detailed nine ways he and his wife enrich their marriage relationship.

    1. Don’t take one another for granted.
    2. Be pleasant. 
    3. Pray together every day.
    4. Study and discuss the gospel together.
    5. Don’t be critical of one another to others, even if there are grounds for doing so.
    6. Discover things you enjoy doing together, and then do them regularly. 
    7. Be patient, charitable, and compassionate.
    8. Govern your finances carefully.
    9. Never give up.

The formula for marital success is concisely taught in The Family: A Proclamation to the World

Successful marriages and families are established and maintained on principles of faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, love, compassion, work, and wholesome recreational activities. … In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners.

There Are Always Three In Marriage

I believe successful marriages are not only possible, but divinely guided.

And they were married, and given in marriage, and were blessed according to the promises which the Lord had made unto them (4 Nephi 1:11).

The Lord will bless children and parents in creating strong, healthy relationships.

My parents prayed for divine guidance for themselves and for us.

As a teenager, I didn’t appreciate my parents’ style of parenting. Curfews and some family time (which at the time I felt was coerced) dampened fun times with my friends.

In spite of feeling grouchy then, my  favorite memories as a teenager include sitting around the living room on Sunday afternoons talking about the whys and hows of the Gospel, the inevitable car trouble on every hot, un-air conditioned family vacation, and knowing that my family always had my back.

Even during family economic crises and tragedies, my parents remained best friends consistently. I’ve often marveled at that. Our family endured some crazy emotional upheavals, but I never heard my parents squabble. Maybe they argued in private, but they never argued in front of us.

Another sign that my parents really meant what they said about being best friends forever is their willingness to serve missions.  Each time they leave, Mom tearfully hugs and kisses us. Dad gives us advice.

And then with full purpose of heart, they go on their way. Their devotion to each other and the Lord, and therefore to us, is ever evident.

Anthony and I recently visited Mom and Dad who are currently serving in the Florida Tallahassee Mission.

While Mom was in the other room, Dad stretched out on the couch, smiled at me and said, “You know, I sure love your mom!”  Yes Dad, you crazy, I know.

I am a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I love exploring the world, experiencing nature, assimilating truth, and hanging out with my husband & bulldog. One of my life goals is to visit every LDS temple in the world. I've been to 91.
  • P.A.

    Being equal partners is not about who does what jobs. Even when a wife does the stereotypical ‘female jobs’ and the husband the ‘man jobs’ they can still be equal partners. It’s a matter of mutual respect and counseling together in decision making.

  • SusanKVG

    Hi Delisa, I’m tickled to see you’re posts! I love this article. But I’m sad because in some circumstances, like second marriages to men who pounce (verbally, emotionally) on their stepkids really drives a couple apart. Mom finds herself protecting her kids from her husband. All the more reason to try and keep the original family together. If I had to do it over again, though I probably would have divorced anyway, I would not remarry until my kids were grown and on their own. I delight in your strength and wisdom. (I worked with you for a short time at the SLTemple)

    • Delisa Hargrove

      Aloha Susan! Of course I remember you!! Thanks for your note. I really appreciate your comment because there are no family stereotypes! And we’re each doing the best we can, hopefully, with what we’ve got. I love learning from other people’s experiences and sharing my own, too. Hope you have a beautiful holiday season!

  • Andrew Daniels

    Opinion, mingled with scripture.

    • Delisa Hargrove

      Definitely. That’s the perfect description of my life. 🙂 Thanks for stopping by!

  • ann

    Thank you for the great article. Had a lot of good points. However, your parents are a minority!! Most husbands do not take on that much responsibility in the home. Marriage is indeed hard!!

    • delisa

      Thanks for your response, Ann!

      It seems that the key is for each couple to identify what works best for their marriage. Each relationship is unique.

      Marriage is such a great experiment, isn’t it!

  • ann

    This article is great with great points. However, your parents are a minority!! Most husbands I know do not take on that much responsibility in the home. As I sit here and think I know of maybe one or two husbands that meet that expectation.

  • joedude

    Indeed an inspiring store. Stories such as these raise great expectations for those who grow up in the Gospel and great disappointment for those who don’t achieve it. My parents weren’t very close growing up and the relationship I have with my current wife (#2) is terrible. How I wish I could have such a close relationship with my wife. Unfortunately, it brings me great sorrow to read these kinds of stories; yet, joy to those who have it.

    • delisa

      Thank you for your heartfelt response. I think I feel similarly as you when I read stories/articles about families with children. I’m happy for families with children, but still feel a deep sadness because we do not have children & always wanted & expected them.

      Elder Richard G. Scott gave a talk in General Conference of 2001, “First Things First,” talking about the ideal family. I reread it for peace and perspective. It relates to every kind of family circumstances – married with children, single with children, married without children, single, divorced, etc.

      This is my favorite paragraph from the talk. It gives me hope that the Lord’s eternal promises are sure for me (and my husband). This life is not the end.

      “Throughout your life on earth, seek diligently to fulfill the fundamental purposes of this life through the ideal family. While you may not have yet reached that ideal, do all you can through obedience and faith in the Lord to consistently draw as close to it as you are able. Let nothing dissuade you from that objective. If it requires fundamental changes in your personal life, make them. When you have the required age and maturity, obtain all of the ordinances of the temple you can receive. If for the present, that does not include sealing in the temple to a righteous companion, live for it. Pray for it. Exercise faith that you will obtain it. Never do anything that would make you unworthy of it. If you have lost the vision of eternal marriage, rekindle it. If your dream requires patience, give it. As brothers, we prayed and worked for 30 years before our mother and our nonmember father were sealed in the temple. Don’t become overanxious. Do the best you can. We cannot say whether that blessing will be obtained on this side of the veil or beyond it, but the Lord will keep His promises. In His infinite wisdom, He will make possible all you qualify in worthiness to receive. Do not be discouraged. Living a pattern of life as close as possible to the ideal will provide much happiness, great satisfaction, and impressive growth while here on earth regardless of your current life circumstances.”

      The family is crucial in God’s plan. Satan wages war against us. In spite of past decisions/events/feelings/hurts, I believe the Savior’s Grace will change our relationships as we seek His help– beauty for ashes (Isaiah 61:3). Never give up. We must believe in Christ, believe in ourselves, and believe in our loved ones.

      May God bless you!!

  • This is a great great great article….thanks!!!!!

    • delisa

      Thank you!

  • Robyn

    I grew up in a broken home, and my parents were never united in anything, and it is because of that that my husband and I are so adamant about doing things differently. However, my father remarried, and he married a woman with no consideration of his children at all. In fact, he got married, then announced it to us when picking us up for our custodial time with him the next week. In spite of all the hesitations I had personally about his marriage, he said to me, “this is the woman I married. Deal with it.”. He “cleaves” to this woman, but has severed all loyalties and responsibilities to his children. We are both grown adults now, but the hurt of his remarriage has damaged my relationship with him. Clearly it is important to cleave to your spouse and be one, but this marriage was for my father, and him alone. What would your opinion be on the spouse being the most important thing in a second marriage relationship?

    • delisa

      Thank you for your question! I’m glad I can clarify that point.

      I believe that balance, love, and mutual respect should guide all of our relationships.

      Husbands and wives have an extra responsibility to unitedly rear children in “love and righteousness, to provide for their physical and spiritual needs, and to teach them to love and serve one another, observe the commandments of God, and be law-abiding citizens wherever they live.” (The Family: A Proclamation to the World)

      The Lord gives us great leeway to live this responsibility according to our personalities, insights, and talents, but His expectations seem clear to me that through parents’ mutual love (which ultimately removes infighting to create an emotionally safe home environment, etc), they can love and nurture children. I believe this dynamic should happen regardless of biological or step parent relationship.

      I know that the Lord will bless you as you and your husband live and love unitedly and that the Savior’s Atonement can heal every wounded heart.

    • Dew Yu Luvmi

      Robyn, from your perspective, it sounds as though your father went to far to the extreme by “ignoring all loyalties and responsibilities to his children.” Nevertheless, give him some credit for the “this is the woman I married. Deal with it.” We need more loyalty between spouses these days instead of the American competition which broods into gender wars.
      When my brother got married, he did not consult with me and ask me if I “approved” of his choice. It was his decision–this is NOT a family counsel decision. “Deal with it.” Did you have lingering emotions regarding your parents divorce? I am sure you may–so I sense you are exhibiting passive-aggressive behavior. The topic is tough to breach; Nevertheless, instead of: “I do not like that woman,” be direct with: “I love you, dad, and mom has always been special in my life, too. It hurts me greatly that our family nucleus has been severed by divorce.”
      Now if you want to broach the scripture topic about why Christ himself directed us to never remarry, but to reconcile with our spouses (1 Cor 7:10-11), you will find that too many Mormons want to ignore that directive from the Lord. The Church is losing its way.
      Nevertheless, in LDS Singles social circles, too often I hear the edict “my children will always come first,” with a strong implication to “my spouse will always come second in the family.” I do believe that in our zeal to be good parents we have created a certain toxicity to real healthy relationships between eternal companions.

  • Charissa

    Thank you for sharing your story! It’s inspiring!

    • delisa

      Thank you!

  • Sunday21

    The very best article ever! Your parents rock.

    • delisa

      Thank you!

      Theirs is an eternal love story…that they believe everyone can have 🙂